No matter the season, Tennessee’s state parks offer visitors plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors and see how their landscapes change with those seasons. Whether it’s spring wildflowers, summer’s greenery, fall foliage or the starker but no less beautiful bare trees and icicles hanging from waterfalls in the winter, the parks are a feast for the senses.
It is easy to see why millions of sightseers, hikers, and campers flock to the Smoky Mountains during the summer and fall months each year. But what about during the colder winter months? Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open year-round, and each season boasts its own unique set of experiences. Winter offers many opportunities to get out and enjoy the beauty and splendor of nature, and a winter hike in the Smoky Mountains is one of the best ways to experience it. Pack warm clothes, winter hiking boots, and always check the conditions of the park and roads to be fully prepared before your visit!
Snow at Rainbow Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Incredible Winter Views of the Great Smoky Mountains
Winter is a beautiful time of year for a visit to the Smoky Mountains. The stunning colors of the fall season have vanished, but what comes next is just as amazing. Once all the leaves have fallen from the trees, views of the mountaintops are suddenly extended for miles. Snowcapped mountain peaks make for even more breathtaking views. You won’t find incredible views of the Smoky Mountains like this any other time of year.
Scenic winter mountain views from Newfound Gap in the Smoky Mountains
Does it Snow in the Smoky Mountains?
Lower elevations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park typically see several snowfalls each winter, while higher elevations tend to get more snow more frequently. Although many winter days see temperatures of 50 degrees or higher, the lows tend to range at or below freezing. It is important to check the conditions of the park and its roads any time you are planning a visit during the winter months. For the latest information on road conditions, check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or call (865) 436-1200.
If you have never seen snow in the Smokies, you are missing out on some beautiful scenery. Winter snowfalls, frozen waterfalls, and hanging icicles offer ample opportunities for capturing some amazing winter photos.
You also have an opportunity to spot wildlife during the winter in the Smoky Mountains. Watch for animal prints if there is snow as you venture down the trails. Just remember to maintain a safe distance from the animals. Check out some of our wildlife safety tips before you head out.
Spot deer and other wildlife during winter hikes in the Smoky Mountains
Can You Hike the Smoky Mountains in the Winter?
Hiking is a popular activity in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the winter season is no different. Roads and trails that are typically filled with visitors during the summer months are quieter and those willing to brave the cooler weather will enjoy a more tranquil experience on the hiking trails. Winter is the perfect time to find a little bit of peace within nature here in the Smokies.
There are a few winter road closures that take place seasonally in the Smoky Mountains. Clingmans Dome Road, Little Greenbrier Road, Parsons Branch Road, and Roaring Fork Mountain are closed to motor vehicles each year beginning in the fall and then reopening in the spring.
If weather conditions remain favorable, US-441 (Newfound Gap Road), Little River Road, and Cades Cove Loop Road remain open throughout the winter months. Because Newfound Gap typically sees several feet of snow each year, temporary road closures are frequently put in place, so checking road conditions prior to setting out is a must.
If you are planning a winter hike in the Smoky Mountains, remember that weather conditions can change quickly, so being prepared is of utmost importance. Temperatures will vary at different elevations and hypothermia can set in quickly, so hikers are encouraged to wear layers of non-cotton material to help prevent heat loss. Bringing a thermos filled with hot cocoa or coffee along with you is another great way to help keep you warm during your adventure.
Best Winter Hikes in the Smoky Mountains
The winter months are one of the best times of year to enjoy the more popular Smoky Mountain hiking trails if you are looking for less congestion and more opportunities for sightseeing. While some of the park’s trails may remain snow free throughout most of the season, others may be icy or completely buried in snowdrifts. It’s a good idea to bring along a trekking pole, and for those planning on hitting the trails located in higher elevations, make sure to pack crampons for boots to make getting through the icy conditions a little easier.
Laurel Falls is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the summer and fall months. With its paved trail and spectacular waterfall, which often accumulates ice formations during the snowy winter months, Laurel Falls is also one of the top winter hiking trails in the Smokies.
Snow covering the leaves at Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Grapeyard Ridge Trail in Greenbrier
With less foliage to camouflage old home sites and farmsteads, winter is a great time to take historical hikes. Prior to the creation of the national park in 1934 hundreds of families lived in the Smokies and many remnants of their legacies are still standing today. Old engine wrecks can be found from a time when railroads were one of the primary methods of transportation through the mountains. The Grapeyard Ridge trail in Greenbrier is an excellent place to see one of these wrecks as the old engine, which turned over in the creek, is still largely intact.
Another option that tops the list of best winter hiking trails is Alum Cave Trail. Alum Cave is a concaved bluff that towers nearly 80 feet above the trail. During the winter months, droplets coming off the ledges above the bluff form into large icicles.
Snow and icicles on Alum Cave Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Schoolhouse Gap is another family friendly winter hiking trail that is located near Cades Cove. The trail is relatively short and is one of the trails where hikers are most likely to spot wildlife. Cades Cove is also home to many cabins and historic sites, many of which have been restored to how they looked over 150 years ago.
Sunrise on a frosty landscape at Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Porters Creek is one of the easiest winter hiking trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it a popular option for families with children. Situated in lower elevations, this trail is easily accessible by car, with gentle climbs that lead to spectacular views of Fern Branch Falls.
Plan Your Winter Getaway in our Cozy Smoky Mountain Cabins
Make your fun winter hiking adventure even more memorable when you book your stay in one of our cozy Smoky Mountain cabins or chalets. Wake up each morning and have your coffee out on the deck while taking in the incredible mountain views. After a full day spent exploring your favorite winter hiking trails, spend your evenings cuddled up next to the fireplace sipping on hot chocolate, or relaxing in your own private hot tub. Our Smoky Mountain cabins offer all the comforts of home, so you can enjoy the perfect winter retreat!
Now that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over, it is time to relax and have a little fun. And if the thought of seeing snow and donning your favorite stocking hat and mittens gets you excited, then a fun winter getaway to the Smoky Mountains should be at the top of your to-do list. So, don’t wait…pack your bags, grab the kids, and make your way to the Great Smoky Mountains for a fun winter hiking adventure!
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December 3, 2020
Winter may be a great time to stay inside and cuddle under warm blankets, but what happens when dreaded cabin fever starts to creep up on you?
Hiking can be exactly what you need to get your blood pumping and your sense of adventure peaking.
Head just 1.5 hours west of Charlotte to Burke County, North Carolina, and experience the outdoors the way it should be: less sweat, no bugs or snakes, and few leaves to get in the way of the amazing views you achieve. The crisp air and bright surroundings will be sure to wake you up from the haziness of the holidays.
After a day of hiking and exploring the mountain winter wonderland that is Burke County, nearby Morganton’s award-winning restaurants, breweries, and bottle shops make it easy to sit and relax for a while.
While you’re in town, pick out a Christmas Tree up the mountain near Jonas Ridge or Pineola.
For hiking in the area, we recommend the following areas but there are many more to visit as well.
3 Winter Hikes To Try in Burke County, N.C.
1. Fonta Flora State Trail
Fonta Flora State Trail near Lake James is popular for good reason: the pet-friendly trail’s scenic lake vistas are made even better with your furry friend by your side. The trail currently winds 15 miles around Lake James, and it will eventually connect Downtown Morganton to Downtown Asheville.
2. Shortoff Mountain Trail/Pisgah National Forest
For more of a challenge, try the moderately-rated Shortoff Mountain Trail that climbs up from WolfPit road to the summit of Shortoff Mountain. On this trail, you’ll find remarkable views of the Linville Gorge plus far away peaks once you climb up the 2,400 feet across 2.5 miles.
3. High Shoals Falls Trail and South Mountains State Park
Another moderate trail, this one stretches for two miles round trip in North Carolina’s largest state park, offering creekside trails with wooden steps crossing the creek. The cascading waters are a haven for nature photographers.
Hiking these few trails are just one of many outdoor activities you can do this winter in Burke County. Click here to explore more fun ideas for a weekend in Western N.C.
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